It was a Thursday night, which was not our usual time for violin lessons, and my four children knew it. Our day was as overloaded as the spring ditch creek at the end of our driveway – group play date, library, and tumbling, all falling back-to-back. We landed at music lessons tired, overstimulated, and hungry for anything else besides the box of atomic yellow flavor blasted goldfish we’d been sticking out hands into all day.
While my eldest attempted to follow her teacher’s instructions, my youngest threw books on the floor while his sisters lolled over my shoulders and pulled at my purse, disconsolately asking whether or not I had any mints, or new snacks, and if it was time to go home yet. The scratch of violin scales doggedly began. Heat started to collect under my arms and along my temples.
My eyes desperately traversed the now-familiar classroom. The black and white clock stonily stated we had fourteen minutes remaining. The sun glinted off the warped and dirty snowbanks quietly melting outside the south window. And then I noticed it, a little sign taped to a file cabinet. It was a picture of a child haphazardly holding on to a bunch of helium balloons that were dragging him backwards across the grass.
The cheery lettering at the top read, “Let go or be dragged.”
I read it again, no longer noticing the child pulling at my jeans, or the frenetic whisper play of the twins going on behind me. The violin noise faded, and I inhaled slowly.
Let go or be dragged.
Somehow, this seemed like a startling new revelation regarding a number of circumstances I was doggedly working through in my personal life. Potty training. Tantrums. Financial puzzles. Interpersonal connection. Hurt. Faith questions. Exhaustion. The ever-constant need to clean and organize.
Let go or be dragged.
Take potty training, for instance.
Potty training a boy (after training three girls) is proving to be an animal with different stripes. I was warned this would most likely be the case, but by the end of the second week, our success was limited to me remembering to haul my son to the bathroom at the appropriate elimination time. He maintained a very laisse fair approach to the whole affair, going when he was prompted, but with increasing resentment and hesitation.
Meanwhile, we burned through an entire bag of miniature colored marshmallow treats (given out in magnanimous handfuls by his helpful sisters), a bottle of Clorox wipes, and a bag of overpriced Cars-themed pull-ups.
One night after I recounted yet another exhausting toileting mishap to my husband, he gently suggested that it might be time to take a break.
Inside, I rebelled at his words. We had made some hard-fought advances, after all. Our son was staying dry at night and during naps, and rarely had accidents during the day. He successfully held it in the car, and had only had one public accident.
I saw my days of careful vigilance and bleached training pants and bathroom floor reading time swirling down the drain, and it hurt my pride to admit defeat. But this was not about my pride.
It was about my son.
Let go, the little boy in the picture whispered. He’s not ready yet. Don’t push it. You’re being dragged. I didn’t want to agree, but I knew it was true.
The next morning, we went back to diapers.
The events of life, it seems, are hell-bent on getting their hooks in us. A meaningless jest. A bad meeting. A temperamental car battery. A child’s lost library book. These things are outside of our control, but often fall just close enough within our purview that we can’t stop thinking about them.
Letting go doesn’t usually occur to us.
We lump around like an arthritic dog, imperfectly guarding our territory. We mull over our thoughts, chewing over conversations, shortcomings, mistakes, and concerns like a well-worn bone.
It isn’t often we give ourselves permission to simply let go.
That seems too easy, our brains say.
That’s giving up. It’s letting someone else win, the world says.
Or is it?
In the act of letting go, of giving in to circumstances outside of our control, what it we are better able to practice the little celebrated art of surrender?
Definition-wise, surrender means: to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand, or to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.
Spiritually, surrender looks like what Jesus taught in Matthew 11.
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
What if we have to start by getting over ourselves, and then seek out wisdom from the source?
Humility may not be many people’s favorite virtues, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a part of our daily lives– particularly when we need to let go of something and try another way. Humble surrender (as opposed to angrily giving in and then stomping around like a temperamental two-year-old) allows us to assess our circumstances and accept our position.
And if we’re lucky, it affords us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from the dust and either try again or walk away, this time with more clarity and perhaps, a deeper wisdom.
A few days ago morning, after our full return to diapers, my son grabbed at his pants and quietly mumbled that he needed to go potty. The deed was done successfully and with no cajoling, and I stood in the kitchen afterward in dumbfounded amazement.
I’m too old to pedal the old idea that if you let something go, it’ll come back to you if it’s meant to be. Life is too uncertain for platitudes.
But it is also, undoubtedly, too short to be threatened by thoughts that want to drag me, kicking and screaming, to somewhere I don’t want to go. Had I not stepped back from constantly directing my son to go potty (and thoughts of my own failure as a mother), he never would have had the space to determine his own urge.
Humility and gentle surrender will do far more good for a soul than clinging to failure and hurt.
Hanging on to words, worries, and fears and allowing them to direct our thoughts and emotions is dead weight, better to be cut loose from than strangled by.
Let go, or be dragged.